Women in STEM for Africa!

MEDO has recently conquered major news headlines for being the first private company in Africa to acquire a satellite and launch. The headlines don’t end there, however; as there are plans to acquire five more satellites until 2020. After partnering up with Morehead State University’s Space Programme focused on Young Women in STEM, in but a year’s time young African women will be sending the satellite, which they have designed themselves across the ocean to find its own place among the stars. Article by Carla de Klerk.

A recent STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) report predicted that by 2020, 80% of all future jobs will require a STEM education. The same report suggested that people in STEM careers earn almost double per hour on average than people in non-STEM careers. These statistics may sound like a glorious victory for all STEM-related degrees and occupations, except for a chilling fact that currently only 10% of young women show an interest in STEM worldwide, and that statistic is even less in Africa.

On the 24th April 2015, Dr Azar Jammine of the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) is quoted by a newspaper as saying ‘in the 2014 matric results, just 7.6% passed maths with more than 60%, while 5.5% managed the same in physical science.’  The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) – a cross-national study that measures mathematics and science achievement – tested 11 969 pupils in 285 South African schools in 2010 and 2011, and of the 48 countries that participated in TIMSS, South Africa came 47th for mathematics and 48th for science. In 2014, 28% of all learners writing matric last year failed any form of numeracy assessment. More than half of the 75,8% of learners who passed were effectively grade-appropriately innumerate and fewer learners are taking the subjects that are required to address this country’s critical shortage. In 2014 9% of school leavers chose to follow STEM. Only 10% of 2015’s matriculants passed with Maths and Science with university exemption. 23% of 2015’s matriculants passed maths with more than 30%. In the most recent World Economic Forum report on Education looking at the quality of Maths and Science, South Africa ranked 148th out of 148 countries. And lastly, in a Department of Higher Education and Training Government Gazette of 2014, it is stated that eight of the top 10 occupations where there is a skills scarcity in South Africa, are STEM related. Less than 10% young women are interested in STEM subjects, worldwide. Globally 14% of the STEM workforce is female; in South Africa, only 7%.

To address their STEM issue, the US runs various Young Women in STEM programmes. For example, Google, NASA and various universities have their own programme, there is also Girls who Code to mention but a few. MEDO, however has found inspiration from Morehead State University’s STEM programme. Morehead runs various Young Women in STEM programmes for various ages, with their most prestigious programme, Space Trek focusing on high school learners that effectively sees the students design payloads for satellites that the university send up to orbit. The results of the programme speak for themselves, 73% of respondents said Space Trek introduces them to STEM college majors of which they were previously unaware, and 87% of respondents said Space Trek introduced them to new STEM careers. Currently 30% of all students enrolled in Morehead State’s space science degree are female, and every single one of those women came from Space Trek.

At MEDO we don’t like to linger on problems, we focus on solutions and by taking a cue from Morehead we believe we found a sustainable solution. 

MEDO has bought a Cube Satellite that will work as endpoint for the MEDO Space programme that will see young African high school pupils from South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana effectively design the payload for the satellite that will go up into orbit in 2016/2017. A Cube Satellite is exactly what it sounds like, a 10x10x10 cm box that can be launched into space. What the young women will design for the satellite is its inner workings, its primary use, being what it is going to measure. The possibilities are endless in this regard and can measure temperature, sound or even radioactivity. Whatever the satellite will do in orbit, will be entirely up to the creativity and ingenuity of the learners. Another interesting aspect for the satellite is that it will be flying across the poles, meaning that it will go right over Africa for about a six-week period, literally connecting the continent.

The key aspect of this satellite programme, is that it is a long-term project as MEDO has secured funding from ISUZU Trucks to send up one satellite per year until 2020. This happens to coincide with the statistic that 80% of careers will be STEM related, however by this time we would have a generation ready to graduate with technical degrees from university. This is a private-sector solution to Africa’s STEM problem, and with it, we are not only taking on the USA with this project, but the world, as the sky is literally the limit.

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